The Outsiders Teaching Approaches
by S. E. Hinton

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Teaching Approaches

Understanding Ponyboy as a Dynamic Character: The Outsiders is the story of Ponyboy’s coming of age. As the novel progresses, he reaches a deeper understanding of who he is within his family, neighborhood, and community. At first, Ponyboy is confused about his brother as an authority figure, unsure of whom to look to for guidance among his rag-tag gang of buddies, the greasers. As the tragic events of the novel unfold, Ponyboy looks to those around him with wiser eyes. This effect is underscored by the narrative conceit of the novel revealed in final chapter: the book itself is an essay that Ponyboy writes to describe what he has learned. 

  • For discussion: Compare and contrast Ponyboy’s characteristics at the start and end of the story. How do his appearance, dialogue, thoughts, and feelings develop over the course of the text? 
  • For discussion: Identify key turning points for Ponyboy. Which events in the text cause Ponyboy to view the world around him in a significantly new way? How and what does Ponyboy learn? 
  • For discussion: Are any of the other characters in the text dynamic? Who? How do they change in the text? 
  • For discussion: Are the changes Ponyboy experiences typical of adolescence? Why or why not?

Analyzing Character Foils to Understand Social Themes: In his narration, Ponyboy describes the mix of characters who make up his family and community. Darry and Dally are both older characters who survive a troubled adolescence to act as caregivers; Sodapop and Bob are both good-looking boys who are becoming adults without parental guidance; Ponyboy and Johnny are learning who they are as individuals amid troubled home lives and the threat of gang violence. All of these characters struggle against the same backdrop of economic inequality, coupled with prejudicial social expectations. These pairings illuminate the characters and reveal the novel’s deeper thematic currents. By comparing and contrasting character foils, students can draw conclusions about social themes in the text. 

  • For discussion: Which characters in the text act as character foils? Which characters have strong, unavoidable similarities, yet make different choices at critical turning points in their lives? 
  • For discussion: Compare and contrast the greasers and the Socs as groups, considering both the prejudices they face and how they treat each other. Which characters, either greaser or Soc, behave contrary to the expectations of their social group? How does this behavior affect their development as characters? 

Nothing Gold Can Stay: When Ponyboy and Johnny are hiding out in the church, Ponyboy wakes early one morning and catches a melting, misty, golden sunrise. Startled to find Johnny watching the sunrise over his shoulder, Ponyboy listens as Johnny recites Robert Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” The poem serves as a thematic totem for the novel, initially calling to mind the inevitable loss of innocence. When Johnny reminds Ponyboy to “stay gold” in their final interaction, the meaning of the allusion continues to expand, touching on the importance of staying true to one’s authentic self within the turbulence of life. 

  • For discussion: Analyze with students the connotations of the adjective “gold.” What does the word literally mean, and what does it suggest? 
  • For discussion: For Ponyboy and Johnny, which things are “golden”? What does the word signify within the poem, and what significance does it carry over the course of the story? 
  • For discussion: Ask students to consider how rhyme, diction, and imagery develop themes within the poem. How do themes within Frost’s poem compare and contrast with those in Hinton’s novel?

Introducing Situational Irony: One of the first story components that Ponyboy describes is the conflict between the greasers and the Socs. He’s afraid to walk home from the movies as a greaser, for fear of getting jumped by Socs. He describes the Socs and the greasers as opposites: rich and poor, West side and East side, presumed innocent...

(The entire section is 1,855 words.)